Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fangs for the Memories

KeVin Killiany suggested the following as a shared blog topic at Novel Spaces in July: "No one would be charmed by a romance between a man and a sheep—so why are vampire/human romances popular?"

(Note: I have not looked at other Novel Spaces posts on this topic. I wanted to approach it uninfluenced by what others have already posted or will be posting. So my comments may overlap with other posts.)

Which is better, sheep or vampire? Depending on the author, modern vampires often look much like humans and sometimes can pass for them easily. The hero or heroine of a romance novel could easily be sexually attracted to a vampire for the same reasons she or he is attracted to another human: hair color, style of dress, charming conversation, sense of humor, body shape, or any of the many traits vampires and humans share in common. The reader could like the vampire for the same reasons.

A sheep, being a living mammal, in many ways has more in common with the human protagonist than a vampire does. A beating heart, for example, and not eating live prey. But the sheep lacks the features that normal humans find sexually attractive. A romance between a man and a sheep would be a sad, pathetic thing, with little communication and no mutual interests. I would assume a man in such a romance would be physically or mentally so repulsive that no human woman would have him.

Which is better, human or vampire? I suggest five reasons that writers, their characters, and readers may find a vampire attractive.

1. Glamor. A vampire can charm a human into feeling attraction and going along with the vampire's desires. In real life, glamor would be terrifying. As a fantasy, though, it can be extremely compelling. Most people have desires they don't give into because reason or morality or the thought of social disapproval stops them. Under glamor, they can give in to these desires and feel no guilt because they were glamored.

2. The ultimate protector. In a society that doesn't regulate male violence well and whose popular culture glorifies it (such as our own), women may consider the ability to protect her an important quality in a mate. For such women, a vampire is an almost-perfect mate. She has nothing to fear from human men because her mate is stronger, faster, and more experienced; can't die; and won't run away when she's in trouble.

3. The ultimate object of pity. Heroes in romances often have a tragic past that has scarred them emotionally or physically and/or turned them into men who hate themselves and so behave hatefully to others. The heroine's role in such romances is to discover the pain, understand the pain, and heal the hero. The vampire, for all his powers, has lost most of what matters in life. Some fictional vampires are on a quest to find a way to be human again. The heroine with a soft heart finds the perfect man in the vampire who allows her to see his pain.

4. A link to a more mannered and cultured past. The past century as been a strange one for women. They have won rights, become educated in high numbers, and established themselves as capable beings allowed to make their own choices. During those same years, society in most ways has become cruder, ruder, more selfish, and less cultured. A vampire born during a more formal and cultured time is likely to come courting well dressed, to be on his best manners including not cussing, and to able to talk knowledgeably about art, politics, history, food, foreign countries, and other such topics. The vampire thus makes a better date than someone who shows up in torn jeans and teeshirt, takes you to a violent action movie in which hundreds of innocent people get blown up/killed in a car crash/eaten by zombies, and can't converse about anything but lowest-common-denominator popular culture.

5. Cultural evolution. If you've read early vampire novels such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, you've seen that the earliest vampire characters in fiction were disgusting and evil in every way. They were unsatisfying characters because they were one-dimensional. Since then, authors have gradually rounded out vampire characters. Now vampires have personalities that differ from each other. They have good traits and bad traits. Some have retained their emotions or their love of knowledge or in other ways have traits that appeal to the opposite sex. Some even feed on animal blood or drink "True Blood" because their morals don't allow them to harm people. As vampire characters become more rounded and humanlike, it's only natural they become more appealing, both to other characters and to readers. Also, the introduction of TV and the Internet has made the world smaller. Readers have grown up knowing about societies with, for example, different customs or different eating habits. People who aren't "just like us" are no longer automatically frightening.

What do you think? Have I left anything out? Or put too much in? And what about male characters? What do you think attracts them to vampire women?

I'll be blogging again on August 6.

—Shauna Roberts


Charles Gramlich said...

There is definitely more nuance to modern vampire characters, although I miss some of the evil ones at times.

KeVin K. said...

Now, Shauna, I never said I'd prefer a human/sheep romance to a human/vampire romance. I find both concepts equally disturbing. (But the story of a vampire amusing himself by using the modern vogue to lure victims? I'd read that. Actually, I might write that. Hmmmm.)

I think your glamor explanation is the best, and I believe you're the first to raise it. Absolution, or better yet, complete freedom from guilt for giving in to desire could be quite the aphrodisiac. Something to conjure with.

Liane Spicer said...

Interesting rationalizations, some of which I haven't seen before. I still don't get the allure, though. There are some boundaries I can't get my mind to cross, and consorting with demons is one of them.